Tricks & Tips for CW Program Management Best Practices

As discussed at the 2014 CWS Summit held on October 8th, in Las Vegas, NV

Trey Austin, SPHR, Director, Global Contingent Staffing, UPS
Ed Hidalgo, Senior Director, Staffing, Qualcomm Inc
Dan Khublall, Director, Global Contingent Labor - Professional Services Sourcing, Thomson Reuters
Ashwin Rao, Executive Vice President, Collabera
Moderator: Stephen Clancy


Today’s Contingent Workforce program management practice has many established frameworks, methodologies, best practices, and now, even a professional industry certification. These established and proven program management practices are based on thousands of CW program engagements and management innovations. This roundtable discussion focused on formal CW program management theories and explored essential “Tricks & Tips” used by successful, certified CW Program managers that can enhance a program’s capability and performance.


Program Operation Management

Establish and maintain an annual CW program strategy plan: This plan should be used to impact areas of a CWP that are struggling or not meeting the plan as well as create opportunities for the program to grow and develop in areas not presently being serviced or new ways to strategically impact what the program is delivering. If a CW program is not constantly evolving then its impact and importance to the organization will diminish. Also key, this is for both the buyer, owner of the program and if outsourced the supplier who is managing the program (MSP).

Implement a strongly enforceable and supported CW program: This is more easily said than done, but a CW program’s maturity long-term will be directly dependent on the “enforceability” of the program’s rules of engagement. A CW program needs to be backed by an active senior executive (preferably at the C-level) and “mandatory” program business rules and procedures. As the CW program matures globally and takes on new worker categories such as statement-of-work (SOW), voluntary program participation will not support the organization’s overall CW resource goals and objectives. One potential strategy is to invite an internal auditor to sit on your steering committee and chat with them about managing CW risk, mandatory regulations and rules that might be just around the corner. Ultimately though, it’s critical to have the program’s value proposition defined before one starts “enforcing” program compliance. What specifically does the program do better than the managers can do on their own? What specific efficiencies are the managers gaining? How do you show value when getting involved in rate negotiation, for example? Understand and communicate well the value you are implementing and organizational compliance will be supported.

Establish an audit of any item your program has as a requirement, (Go Look): This can be tough sometimes and many may say it is in my contract or the numbers look good. But if it is important enough for your team or your MSP to be monitoring (On/Off boarding requirements for example) then someone different from the team needs to look. You may be amazed and or please by what you find, but you don’t won’t to be surprised.

CW program information should be easily accessible: Create and maintain a webpage for your program including overall program information, information about using Contingent resources, escalation process for issues, rules for working with this type of resource, to name a few. Have a dedicated email address that all communications coming from the program go through it. That way it is very clear when the program is giving updates and program information, and when appropriate, reference that information on the program webpage.

Regularly review operation of the program: Depending on the complexity of your program/s, whether you are a buyer or a supplier reviewing the status of a CW programs key indicators (open req.s, problem req.s, hiring manager concerns, program support needed as an example) many times cannot wait till a quarterly business review or even a monthly review, some programs may need a quick weekly review especially if there are a high number of assignments, a lot of changes happening daily with assignments and hiring managers, or many new projects that may need special attention. By setting a standard time and place along with hot topics to be reviewed the program teams along with the owner can stay on top of this ever changing activity.

Implement quality management: Quality in CW program management is proposed to be the most wanted and important virtue evaluating a program’s performance and capability. Unfortunately, it is the least operationally executed best practice. There are a number of fairly reasonable quality management actions that program managers can execute to make a rapid impact in program quality. The first is to understand what the most important CW quality priorities are among their engagement managers and program stakeholders, such as talent quality, cost management or risk mitigation. Once this is understood, the rest of quality management is straightforward.

Execute reliable business decision analysis/CW program data management: It’s the age of big data and CW program activity can create numerous transactional data points. The key practice here is how you representatively and reliably leverage this treasure trove of data to drive strategic and tactical insight. Tactical to enhance program performance and engagement manager satisfaction and strategically so one can further leverage CW resources to support the achievement of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

Conduct a program maturity (capability) assessment review: Also on an annual basis, CW program managers need to look beyond their performance statistics and evaluate the status of their program’s capability. The review should include at least these five capability dimensions: comprehensiveness, strategic, governability, measurability and sustainability. This annual capability assessment will help define the most impactful priorities in one’s annual strategic operating plan.

Form a CW program advisory board: A CW program advisory board should be a combination of key internal and external stakeholders who carry significant roles and impact in the organization. It is a special platform to inform, discuss and review the significant, growing role that CW resources play within the company and how increased, safe, leverage of these assets can assist in achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. It’s also a great platform to introduce and launch new CW program growth and capability initiatives.

Institute an ongoing change management/program communication: The key word in this best practice is ongoing. Most, if not all, CW program are changing on a regular basis, along with the base of engagement managers who use them. This phenomenon of ongoing change will require constant communication, updated program documentation and even training platforms that provide just-in-time counsel on effectively and safely engaging CW resources in one’s workforce. Think professional program services marketing for the best results.

Program management in a transitioning employment marketplace: The employment marketplace abs and flows constantly depending on macro, micro and competitive market factors. CW programs need to understand the ground level issues that are in their contingent workforce marketplace, and then make required adjustments in their program execution. Communicating with one’s MSP partner and/or top suppliers on a regular and organized basis can help CW program managers stay informed on the latest trends and important movements in their marketplace. Engaging program partners on what they are seeing out there in the marketplace can be invaluable. Program partners can be an important benchmark source for market rates and CW engagement requirements by others in your talent markets. For example, if a program operates with a rate card, take a look at it on a quarterly/semi-annual basis and make sure the program’s rates and policies can competitively attract the top talent the organization is looking for.


Risk Management

Conduct an annual risk assessment and mitigation review: CW program statutes at the federal and state levels, along with ongoing court judgments, are occurring at a rapid pace in today’s marketplace, so conducting an annual CW program risk assessment is a required best practice to keep up-to-date. There are a number of established methods to effectively execute a risk assessment, and one can be completed in short order internally. The key elements of this assessment is to identify potential possibility and impact of a risk element and then engage a risk mitigation policy that is proportional to the potential possibility and impact of the risk.


Cost Management

Engage transparent cost management: Today’s bill rates include multiple-moving cost components, each of which affects various elements of your program in terms of access to required quality talent, an invigorated/competitive staffing supply chain and the ability to execute a balanced cost management strategy that achieves annual budget requirements. So it is essential to mind and manage your bill and pay rate levels as an overall program management best practice. Arbitrarily executing aggressive cost management strategies without visibility and understanding of bill rate fundamentals could create a program that can’t attract required talent, engage staffing suppliers to support the program, and/or worse, one might be wastefully overpaying for CW resources engaged. Monitoring the pay rate of your CW population is not an action of margin management… you need to understand all moving parts as a program and ensure the suppliers are seeing the right value proposition (revenue) and we’re getting the right skill of candidates (pay).


Program Performance Management

Build a focused metrics portfolio structure: Simply stated, some programs have too many operational metrics (service-level agreements and key performance indicators), which distracts and leaves the overall program management unfocused. CW program management metrics portfolios need to align with an organizations business goals, objectives and annual priorities. The rest is a waste of time and costs for everybody involved. If a metric is engaged, make sure it is meaningful.

Establishing scorecards/dashboards for critical visibility to all stakeholders: If a CW Program’s performance metrics are truly design to align with overall business goals and objectives, then it is logical and critical to give these performance metrics visibility to CW Program’s stakeholders. Don’t get caught up in multiple columns for marginally considered stats…go for the big “headline”, bottom-line numbers and manage your program performance accordingly. The point here is stakeholders should be able to get a quick understanding of the CW Program’s performance and that it is on track, or not. Incorporating a “Traffic Light”, (Green, Yellow and Red) color scheme can graphically assist in a quick analysis and understanding of a CW Program performance status. Designing segmented scorecards for different stakeholder interests and priorities is also very effective. Ultimately, promoting visibility of program performance is critical to CW Program managers, but segments of this business intelligence is similarly important to all other stakeholders of the CW Program too! A well-managed portfolio of performance scorecard/dashboard tools is a premier communication tool for the CW Program.


Managing Talent

Performance Management: The performance of contingent workers is a high priority for any program. A program that has a defined process can effectively work through performance concerns in order to make the right decisions on whether a worker receives coaching, training or if the assignment should end. It is important to understand the situation before acting on it and this is where the CWP should play the role of central point of contact for mangers and suppliers. All parties should work together to understand the issues by conducting interviews with the worker and management to understand the facts. The leadership for these conversations should come from the CWP who performs the role of liaison between corporate HR, legal, management and the supplier. Having a process in place to manage performance issues and educating partners creates an opportunity to do the right thing by creating more opportunities to retain workers and avoid unnecessary turnover.

The On-Site CWP Liaison: The demand for contingent labor has always driven a past paced environment. Prior to a contingent worker being placed on assignment they may have had a couple phone calls, some email interactions and an interview with their agency recruiter, but little time to truly develop a relationship with their employer. Once on site, any number of questions may develop; questions about completing time cards, workspace accommodations or to get more clarity around training while on assignment. Where is a contingent to go? Some contingent workers reluctantly ask their manager others will call their employer, and some seek a third source for information - the CWP team. In these scenarios the CWP can play the important role of navigator when questions arise. Having a pulse on the types of questions can also provide insights into which suppliers are better handling the onboarding process and which suppliers are also maintaining their relationships with their employees. It can be overwhelming to be a contingent worker on site at a large corporation. Having access to another source for information and support can help to smooth the transition to a new assignment and ensure greater focus on the job instead of on the questions.

Contingent Talent Engagement: According to the Gallup organization, “the bulk of employees worldwide − − 63% − − are “not engaged”, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.” As corporations struggle to engage its most valuable resource, there is often a population of contingent workers working side by side whose engagement is equally as important. The concern over co-employment often removes the ability for contingents to gain access to some corporate perks that can go a long way in helping to drive engagement. Some examples of these valued perks include allowing temporary employees to use exercise facilities, participate in learning programs, attend company sponsored events, purchase discounted products at the company store and even attend a staff meeting. Allowing those contingent workers to use facilities and other resources unique to your organization will likely not increase your co-employment risk, but may increase engagement of those valuable human resources.

Engaging your Talent Scouts: Staffing agency partners perform an important function for corporations, they find and attract your future workforce. The importance of finding talent to get the work done is critically important and engaging your talent scouts properly can lead to more successful hires. Engaging your scouts means helping them understand your program and how you operate while also helping them understand company culture and environment. Suppliers need to understand the rules of engagement and expectations so before you send out the first requisition, set up an orientation meeting to lay the foundation for success so they can hit the ground running. Once on board, engage them like an extension of your team and consider inviting them on-site to experience the culture of your organization. Provide them company information and insights to help them sell the company to prospects and get excited about your business. If there are issues, address them early, don’t avoid having difficult conversations with your scouts if they are not meeting your needs. Treating suppliers like an extension of your team is an important aspect of engaging them and ensuring you are giving them everything they need in order to recruit your top talent.

Talent commoditization can lead to a non-competitive, employment brand: Some industry surveys with contingent workers reveals what they like and did not like about the contingent workforce marketplace. Some of the key highlights are: Terminations: Abrupt, sudden terminations are the biggest a sore point with the contractors. Better planning for contingent workforce at the LOB manager level can help reduce that. No Performance based rewards: Once the initial price is set, performance based rewards are rare. Performance based pay increases are also rare. If a contingent worker needs a pay hike, they need to threaten to resign before they get an increase. This has become an industry norm in some competitive skill set sectors. Commoditization: Contingent workers can sometimes feel being commoditized. E.g. Industry trends like mark-ups, restricted margins etc, have seen more hourly employees being hired (than salaried) who do not get any benefits including any paid holiday, access to the gym, etc…?


Partner Management

Leverage supply chain partner’s expertise: It’s obviously important to engage the right supply chain partner in terms of a vendor management system and/or managed service provider(s). You certainly need them to be able to tactically deliver the role and management capability they have contractually promised. But too many managers do not leverage the program management expertise that many VMS and MSP vendors can offer via the knowledge and experience they have gained across multiple customer engagements. Supply chain partners can and need to provide more strategic value to the ongoing CW program development efforts.

Optimizing communication with your Staffing Partners: Contact or No-Contact is always one of the industry’s Million $ program policy questions: Having a hybrid “contact” model is the optimal win-win policy. No Resume, only relationship communication helps staffing partners understand the clients core business needs, the culture, what each engagement manager looks for (apart from the regular skills inventory) and provide the best quality talent. A small staffing partner list, strong governance and process to ensure that staffing partners don’t go around the system to submit resumes with strict penalties for staffing partners who flout rules while allowing staffing partners in good standing to build a solid sourcing relationship has been proven as the best model. Make sure your staffing partners have all the information and tools they need in order to deliver the best talent. Detailed job descriptions, access to the engagement manager for more information and questions, responsive feedback regarding resumes in order to fine tune a search, taking note of your staffing partners counsel regarding rates and job descriptions not matching up and what needs to be changed/tweaked in order to find the best quality talent for each position. Recruiting talent is both “Art & Science”, not just a corporate HR process that can be automated to a traditional corporate procurement transaction.

Capturing the best quality talent from your staffing partners: Start by sharing meaningful, current data that is reflective of the strategic hiring plan (what specific skill sets will be needed, when will they likely be needed, how many will be needed, what locations will they be needed). This information will allow your established staffing partners to proactively pipeline in anticipation of requirements to be released. If possible, break down price barriers that shrink the candidate pool. Flexibility on rate should equate to a larger candidate pool to consider. Obviously, cost controls are always a priority. That said, there should be an easy way for a candidate to be submitted for exception consideration (when the approved bill rate has been exceeded). Also, drive the program at a “Quality Speed”. If you want quality talent, the program should be structured with quality in mind. Cap the number of submittals per supplier (2 – 3) and send a message that quality talent is what matters. Then provide a reasonable amount of time for the suppliers to submit (3 – 5 days, possibly a bit longer if a difficult skill set). Send the message to your staffing partners that the client isn’t interested in how fast you can submit; but rather, they’re interested in ensuring that the candidates you choose to submit have been amply screened and are qualified to do the job.

Enhancing Staffing Partner Performance: Treat your suppliers as partners, not just as a vendor. Make sure you have periodic meetings with your Staffing Partners (quarterly) either in a scorecard format or just a sit down to discuss performance and point out all the good things they are doing (pat on the back) and the areas in which they need to improve and how to improve in those areas. Suggestions are helpful as your staffing partner does not sit internally and you know your organization better than they do. Measure staffing partner on Rec to Submittal ratio, Submittal to Interview ratio, Interview to hire ratio, Rec to Fill ratio and measure staffing partner on % of recs replied to. Putting staffing partner on PIP and removal from the CW Program to ensure best performers stay with the program. Introduce new staffing partners to invigorate the competitiveness of your supply chain lists. Scorecards WITH PUBLISHED RANKINGS. Ensuring a level playing field for all staffing partners. Take feedback on market trends / experience from the staffing partner community to ensure that program guidelines are in line with the market best practices and in turn result in a successful performance of the CW program.

Building staffing partner loyalty & responsiveness: Staffing Partner Loyalty - “Partner” is the key word. Critical Success Factor here is not to dilute a program by having your MSP or in-house program staffing activity become too large and/or have too many staffing partners. This only causes your strong and loyal staffing partners to tart to look the other way because they are not receiving the amount of reqs and placements they need to keep their recruiting team motivated to work for you. Focus on doing more quality business with less staffing partners. More loyalty also seems to be generated by account managers towards clients who have a better engagement relationship with even though they may have a lower volume. Responsiveness: Schedule calls with engagement managers as much as possible to give recruiting teams the opportunity to be engaged, to hear from the horse’s mouth what he/she wants in this CW engagement, this will create responsiveness within your staffing partner base as they will know and hear the manager’s commitment to want this person hired as quickly as possible. Put a governance model in place for periodic relationship engagement with staffing partner. Review investments and efforts by Staffing Partner on supporting the program - reward ones where commitment is higher for investments made. Information sharing: About overall program, trends and forecasting if any. Reduce surprises as much as possible for staffing partners. Staffing Partner Summit (Annual) - Goes a long way in building a partnership loyalty and responsiveness.